The Book Drop: Technology at Creston library enables access to knowledge

Web Lead

Aaron Francis is the chief librarian at the Creston Valley Public Library.

Aaron Francis is the chief librarian at the Creston Valley Public Library.

Since installing iPads in the children’s area earlier this year, many parents have expressed concerns about their use and availability. Here is one of the comments I received, which succinctly summarizes the main concerns:

“Since you have added iPads to the library, we can no longer go to play and learn with our toddler because they are only interested in them. Kids already watch and play on iPads, computers and TV too much at home, and now it has taken over our library. I understand the need for kids to learn about technology but they get enough of that everywhere else.”

The planning of the children’s area was completed over the course of more than a year by a committee consisting of longtime volunteers, staff, board members and community members. We also invited input from a variety of local consultants. The topic of introducing computer technology to the area was contentious, and the decision was not taken lightly.

I was, and remain, a strong proponent of having computers in the children’s area.

The basis of my support is my commitment to the principles of intellectual freedom and equitable access to information. One of the statements in our library policies (available on our website) reads:

“It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, libraries shall acquire and make available the widest variety of materials.”

Erecting barriers that inhibit an individual’s ability to access information is contrary to our mandate as a public library and something that we strive to avoid.

Barriers in this instance might include placing computers in adult areas where they may not feel comfortable using the computers, using computer furniture that is inappropriate for smaller people, placing computers in restricted areas where access requires staff intervention, and using Internet filters to block content.

This might seem like an overly abstract or intellectual response to a very practical problem, but it is important to keep in mind that public libraries are bound to certain values that, in some cases, transcend local community values (however those might be defined).

As a librarian, I make a point of visiting libraries whenever I travel to new places. In many communities — especially larger centres — the issue of computers in children’s areas was debated and decided in favour of computers a decade or more ago. In some communities, it remains a contentious issue.

As a parent of a young child who is both a regular library user and has access to various forms of technology at home, I sympathize with parents who see technology in the library as an unwanted distraction. The library’s mandate, however, is to serve all members of the community, many of whom do not have access to up-to-date technology at home.

Limiting a child’s exposure to technology and spending time together at the library are not incompatible. However, it does place added onus on the parent to make decisions about their child’s exposure. This responsibility is not unlike that faced by parents at home, or teachers at publically funded schools. It is a function of a changing world, of which the library plays just a small part.

I encourage all parents to set limitations for their children. I also hope that all children will be given the opportunity to be inspired by the amazing world of stories and wisdom that our library provides through our storytelling programs, Summer Reading Club, and extensive, free collections of books and resources.

Aaron Francis is the chief librarian at Creston Valley Public Library. He is currently reading Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk.